ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — While the holiday season is a time for many to gather and celebrate, New York State officials are fearing that these very celebrations could set us back in the fight against COVID-19.
Last holiday season, there was a significant spike nationwide following the gatherings and celebrations. The Southern Tier region saw its highest case numbers in January and February of this year. As the 2021 holiday season kicks off, local experts are carefully monitoring hospitalizations, ICU patients, and positive COVID-19 tests.
“I wouldn’t say that there is a strong concern [right now], but definitely if we see surges, hospitals will be stretched for resources,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health, said.
Staffing shortages could play a role in hospital or medical facility capacity as more people contract the virus.
“Staffing is an issue and not just because of the vaccine mandate, but because of the climate that everyone every employer finds themselves in terms of recruiting,” Jack Wheeler, Steuben County Manager, told 18 News,
Testing is increasing nationwide after a significant decrease in both capacity and demand during the summer months. In the Twin Tiers, more testing facilities are opening their doors once again as people test to see family and friends this holiday season.
“Testing numbers have increased testing capacity has largely remained the same,” Wheeler continued.
Chemung County Health stopped utilizing its mass vaccination and testing facility on Aviation Drive in Horseheads in favor of smaller clinics months ago. Now, they are looking for another facility to accommodate testing. Officials say they found a site, but the next step is securing supplies.
“It’s been challenging to get a hold of testing supplies through the state and our purchasing agreement,” Chemung County Health Director Pete Buzzetti added.
Wheeler applauds the Hochul Administration and their commitment to working with local governments. He said he has had several conversations with the state and hopes they can help the county increase its testing capability.
“We need additional support from New York State to stand up additional testing sites because some of our providers, especially urgent cares, are becoming very busy and can’t keep up with demand for testing,” Wheeler said.
Vaccination demand has increased in recent weeks as more residents became eligible to receive their shots. Both Chemung and Steuben counties have opened up pediatric clinics for children ages five to 11. They say these clinics have been filling up quickly, but they fear it could trail off.
“The concern is just the data, but I will tell you that the data is safe for children in that age group,” Dr. Nistico added.
Booster shot demand has also increased significantly after the CDC and FDA authorized the additional dose a week ago.
“In the summertime and early fall, those clinics wouldn’t fill up. Now for the past month, our clinics had been completely full,” Wheeler continued.
Many experts say there are several tools in the COVID-19 toolbox, including masks and social distancing, which they still recommend as more people gather with family. However, they say the vaccine is the best tool to slow down the spread.
“The data is very much there. It’s not a lie. It’s truly rooted in hard science,” Dr. Nistico concluded.